When I pray for someone who is sick, I hold her in my heart and lift her spirit up to God. But when I am praying for fifty people, as I often do, there’s the risk of getting distracted at approximately person number fifteen, and then my prayer becomes rote. It’s more like taking attendance than engaging in a sacred act of love and submission. Rather than rejoicing in God’s salvation and emerging from prayer joyful and refreshed, I rush to get the praying over with so I can move on to the next task on my to-do list.
Thus I always begin my morning prayer with this bit of scripture from the Book of Romans (chapter 8, verse 26):
The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.
Then I pray, using the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of outline:
Our Father, who art in Heaven—God, present with me at this time and in this place…
Hallowed be thy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul. All that is within me, praise your holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all your benefits. You forgive all my sins and heal all my diseases; you redeem my life from the pit and crown me with love and compassion. You satisfy my desires with good things, so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. [Adapted from Psalm 103]
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven…. This is where I go to my list—yes, I have a written list of the names of people I wish to pray for—and I ask God to illuminate every path, heal every wound, restore their innocence, and bless our relationships. I whisper their names and picture their faces, shining with the love of God. Sometimes I imagine them joining hands, one by one, in a great circle of light.
Give us this day, our daily bread…. Here I pray for my own challenges and difficulties and envision them being transformed.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…. Now I give my regrets, frustrations, and shortcomings wholeheartedly to God. If I feel that someone has wronged me, I try to see that person as God created him, as an innocent, expectant child. I realize that he too has been battered about by the world and the capriciousness of life, and I bless and forgive him. I might have to do this more than once… maybe even seventy times seven.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. May we be happy. May we be safe. May we be well. May we be peaceful and at ease. [Adapted from metta meditation]
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever…. I express my gratitude here. If I’m feeling snarly or put-upon, this too might require a list. Sometimes I have to start with something like, “God, I thank you that my pancreas is working properly. I’m grateful that my bedbug infestation is a thing of the distant past.” After I’ve thanked God for oxygen and sunlight, I can usually lift my mood with thoughts of dear and faithful friends, of disasters I’ve been rescued from, and of the ways I can be of genuine service to others.
Amen is usually translated as, “So be it,” but I don’t see it as an ending. Rather it signifies my intention to “pray without ceasing,” so that if my elevated spirit deflates after an hour or two I can slip back into prayerfulness without having to sit down and bow my head. So I translate Amen as “to be continued.”
My period of “formal” prayer requires about half an hour, and I’d be lying if I said that I pray this way every day. I can tell you that if I pray first thing in the morning, my day goes better than if I wake up agitated and feeling that I’m running behind. But if it’s the middle of the day before I get around to praying, then that time becomes my “morning,” a time of starting over, of being hopeful, and of renewal.
What’s your prayer ritual?